GOP's secret idiot? If George P. Bush is its future, the party's in trouble

Dubya's nephew is running for office, and is Rand Paul's expert on Hispanic voters. But his luck may be running out

Published February 24, 2014 12:45PM (EST)

George P. Bush          (Reuters/Lee Celano)
George P. Bush (Reuters/Lee Celano)

George Prescott Bush, son of Jeb and grandson of George Herbert Walker, is running for Texas land commissioner. Next stop: the White House! As long as he manages to get himself elected land commissioner, that is. It may be tougher than he anticipated, which is to say it may actually require more than simply wanting the job and being named Bush.

Not many Texas voters really understand what the land commissioner does, making it the perfect office for someone with a lot of money and/or name recognition but no prior experience. Unfortunately, it is actually a pretty powerful state office, responsible for millions of acres of land, including mineral rights leasing, making it perhaps not the best office for a political neophyte with no prior government experience.

That is why the Austin American-Statesman editorial board recently referred to the "weak candidate pool" as "distressing." They went on to endorse Bush's Republican opponent, mostly for not being George P. Bush. Bush has run a classic rich man's non-campaign, ducking the press and limiting public appearances to brief, completely controlled situations. He has avoided newspaper editorial boards and in-depth interviews in favor of brief hits with local TV news.

Reports from the field suggest the bus tour has been comprised of short speeches, no audience questions, some small talk with voters, quick interviews with local media and then on to the next event. We tried nine times via phone and email to reach Bush’s campaign, with no response.

That's not a great way to earn an endorsement. As Texas Monthly's Paul Burka pointed out, Bush committed to running for land commissioner primarily because it seemed "the path of least resistance." He filed his papers to run for office well before finally deciding on which one, making it all the more obvious that he was just searching for the easiest possible route to bigger things. The Bush family passion for "public service" increasingly resembles that of the Romney family, in which running for office is viewed as a sort of philanthropic gesture, as if the candidate is offering the masses the experience of being governed by a decent and right-thinking natural leader. To reject this offer is to appear frightfully ungrateful. That presumption and entitlement are enough to make an otherwise sober newspaper editorial board endorse a man whose campaign platform seems to be mainly about barring the children of immigrants from getting public educations.

Being famous and avoiding scrutiny as much as possible is actually a decent way to get elected to many offices. It helps to have money, and Bush certainly does. One benefit of being a Bush is access to the legendary Bush family "Rolodex" of family friends/fundraisers. Mr. Bush's campaign has nearly $3 million, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. "The campaign of his primary opponent, Gilmer business consultant David Watts, had $2,000 cash on hand and $4,000 in debt...."

But the lengths to which Bush is going to avoid saying anything interesting might be a slight sign of concern about his political ability. Sometimes a successful political scion seems like exactly the sort of person who should run for office right up until they do so and then open their mouths, revealing themselves to be idiots, completely unable to articulate reasons for existing at all, let alone reasons for anyone to vote for them. Bush's strategy seems to mainly involve not allowing anyone to give him the opportunity to embarrass himself by having to speak extemporaneously or answer difficult questions about policy or Republican politics. Not that I'm saying George P. Bush is secretly an idiot! He just might be, and he seems intent on maintaining the mystery.

Rand Paul recently met with Bush in Texas, where the senator (and fellow son of a politician who benefited mightily from his family's already extensive fundraising infrastructure) sought the candidate's advice on a subject that is of endless interest to political pundits and Republican politicians wishing to appear long-term-oriented:

“Really I wanted to get advice from him, as much as anything, about how the party grows in Texas and states with large Hispanic populations,” Paul (R-Ky.) told POLITICO backstage after stumping for a state senate candidate here.

Ah, yes, George P. Bush -- a native Spanish-speaker whose mother is Mexican-American -- is just another stop on Paul's "asking various ethnic communities what it would take to get them to vote for Republicans" listening tour. Still, how much advice could Bush, who has never actually won an election with Hispanic support (or any other kind of support), actually give?

A man who was born into one of the most prominent Republican families in the nation is perhaps not the best person to turn to for advice on appealing to various disparate blocs of mostly liberal voters from wildly varying backgrounds -- "Hispanics," in other words -- especially if that man is unwilling to admit that the wisest thing the party could do to appeal to many of those voters is to become more liberal on most major domestic issues and also stop being so goddamn racist all of the goddamn time.

As long as the Republican Party thinks the solution is to "showcase more high-profile Latino candidates but change nothing else at all," their outreach efforts will probably not achieve much. So what sort of message does Bush have for Paul and other Republicans looking for tips on winning over those elusive Latino voters?

Bush said he wants to be among the next generation of leaders guiding the state forward.

“Our state’s values are under attack. And this attack is being led by one man and one man only. His name is Barack Obama,” he said. “And now he has his ideological soul mate, in the name of Wendy Davis.

Yeah, I bet "Barack Obama is the enemy of our values" is a message that's really gonna resonate with the broader Latino community. It almost sounds like George P. Bush's secret to winning in an increasingly diverse Texas, much like the Republican Party's strategy in the nation as a whole, is to try to appeal to white conservatives until the very second that stops working.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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